Review

Living with entry level, the Lumia 635

Far too often we get lost in the spec sheets that accompany new gadgets. Does it have more RAM, a faster clock speed, higher PPI than other devices on the market? Sure, they are all valid questions to those seeking the best of the best, but does 500 more MHz, or a few extra PPI really make that much of a difference? But what if they didn't, what if the entry level devices were good enough to replace the high end phones? 

Since BUILD 2014, I have been using a Lumia Icon as my primary Windows Phone, but around mid-July, I put down the Icon and swapped it for a Lumia 635. Why? Well, I am not a fan of the trend that big phones are the future, and frankly I really like the 4.5in screen size. My dream phone would be to take the guts of a Lumia 1520 and shoehorn them into a Lumia 635 and maybe slim it up a bit like the Lumia 925. But here we are with the Lumia 635 running Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1.

The Lumia 635 is the twin brother of the Lumia 630 and you can read that review, here. But what the Lumia 635 brings to the US markets is an entry level device with decent specs and a lovely price point of about $99.99 depending on which retailer you buy the device at. What you get, over the Lumia 630, is 4G connectivity and for the US market, that's an essential radio that you will want to have in any phone. So, for $99 --and that is off contract -- is the Lumia 635 good enough to replace a high-end phone?

On this entry level device, you get most of what you find on higher end phones like a rear facing camera, but you sacrifice things like a flash, so shooting in the dark is not an option. There is also no front facing camera, so don't plan on hosting any video calls with this device. But what you do get is a 4.5in IPS display 854 x 480 with a PPI 221, for a $99 device, that's not too shabby at all.

So, what's it like putting down and Icon for a Lumia 635? it's an adjustment. You can't put down a high end device and think picking up an entry level device is going to be a perfect transition. I really like the Icon, the metal band around the outside gives it a premium feeling that you immediately miss when using the 635. There is no doubt that the 635 is plastic, and it does not try to hide this fact either, but what you also get is something that is durable. The phone feels like it could fall off of Mt. Everest and keep on going, and this could make it a perfect device for that clumsy friend of yours who always seems to break their phone.

The plastic does not scratch easily, comes in a bunch of vibrant colors and gives you confidence that the device can take a beating without much worry. Oh yeah, it has Gorilla Glass 3 up front as well and a ClearBlack display too, so you don't have much to worry about the front of the device either.

Once you get past the lower PPI, the device feels much like any other Windows Phone. While it may not be as snappy as other high-end Windows Phones, the performance is quite good for the price, and even with only 512MB of RAM, apps still run without much issue. If you had never used a Windows Phone before the 635, you will never know the difference, and think that the phone runs smoothly.

The fact that Cortana is on this phone seems a bit crazy too. Because of how complex Cortana is, you would think that it would need heavy hardware underneath to be able to do all of her tricks. Not so, in fact, Microsoft sent a nifty case along to showcase that its entry level devices include premium features like Cortana. And as you would expect, like everything else with Windows Phone, Cortana performed quite well on this hardware. We did notice that the voice dictaction is slower than that of the Icon but unless you are holding the devices side-by-side, you likely wouldn't notice the slower speed.

The two biggest shortcomings that you should be aware when thinking of buying this device is that the display is sub-par. It gets the job done, but pixels are grainy and the colors are quite muted. Also, the camera on the back of the device is mostly a novelty, and the lack of a dedicated camera button is discouraging. But, this phone costs $99, and these are all expected cuts in features that you would expect for a phone that costs less than a Benjamin

I have been using the Lumia 635 for a few weeks now, and what I miss most from the Icon is the rear camera and the high resolution display, but that's it. I don't miss the battery life, the front facing camera, the build quality, the speed of the CPU or the extra RAM. Microsoft has built a great entry level phone and while the big carriers may not be recommending this entry level device, I certainly can provided you know the limitations. And for $99, it's a bargain. Frankly, if you know you are going out for a weekend adventure, it might be worth picking one up to use as a backup device to protect your higher end devices.

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22 Comments

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Parents that buy smartphones like the iPhone for their children would be better suited to buy a device like this one. If I didn't already have a 1020 I'd be looking into something like the 635 or 730 to have my first WP8 experience on. The value is great. I can't believe parents drop $600+ off-contract or $200+ on-contract for a device for their 10-16 year old kids when they're likely to lose or damage the phone. A handset like this is so much easier to replace and isn't as likely to get stolen since it's not a high-profile, well-known handset that's extremely valuable.

SchroederRock said,
Parents that buy smartphones like the iPhone for their children would be better suited to buy a device like this one. If I didn't already have a 1020 I'd be looking into something like the 635 or 730 to have my first WP8 experience on. The value is great. I can't believe parents drop $600+ off-contract or $200+ on-contract for a device for their 10-16 year old kids when they're likely to lose or damage the phone. A handset like this is so much easier to replace and isn't as likely to get stolen since it's not a high-profile, well-known handset that's extremely valuable.

im all 100% with you back in 2010 i still had a dumbphone - some sony ericsson elm greenheart and i was content with it
back then i was still in school and ive been walking with some of my friends and we would see kids (this happens in bulgaria btw) that are carrying phones bigger than themselves playing some stupid song and walking around as if its nothing and we used to wonder how the hell their parents are with their right mind and at the same time buying them such phones (those were some 4th graders or something)

a kid that age barely needs a smartphone, because they will most likely use it to play games and listen to music, which they can achieve with a simpler device, or!!!.. dont even need to achieve whatsoever, they are f-ing 4th graders ffs!

back then i was on the opinion that only businessmen needed such devices, because of their work

SchroederRock said,
Parents that buy smartphones like the iPhone for their children would be better suited to buy a device like this one.

Kids can be really fussy these days, I can't see a typical kid being happy with a Windows Phone because they won't get the cool apps their friends have, plus I'd be concerned they they may be the target of bullies if they carry a cheap Windows Phone. I would not do that to my kids.

This is my son's first phone. We couldn't be happier about it. It's cheap for starters so if he breaks it, we won't be saddled with a huge cost to replace it. It runs great. The battery life is good so far. I'm getting a sturdy case for it so hopefully it'll survive the next couple of days. I'm partial to WP but if you're wanting a cheap yet handy smartphone, the 635 fits the bill. :)

What, if anything, is wrong with an entry-level phone? There are probably millions of people for whom an entry-level phone is all they want and need. Why forfeit that market for the likes of the "JiggerBut" and the possibility of being able to upsale those user?

I've spent the past week camping near Lake Michigan with the 635. Needless to say, I'm impressed. I took a ton of photos and videos. I even took a video of us riding our bikes down the trail which looked pretty good. Especially since I was just holding the phone out in front of me while steering and filming, lol. Fortunately, most of the photos I took were in good lighting conditions and look excellent. They're exactly what I expected for the price of the phone.

Weather was a bit hectic since it was right next to Lake Michigan. There was a severe thunderstorm the second night there. Luckily, I didn't get it wet. I got my phone covered in sand walking along the beach but the 635 shrugged it off. Battery life was fine. I did need a few midday charges, which wasn't surprising since I was using it so much.

As for performance, it's no different than what everyone says about low-end Windows Phones. Some slight lag (and I do mean slight) but nothing that was a distraction. Otherwise, performance was excellent. I also love the way the phone feels in the hand. It's a shame, I think the 635 could be one of the best mid-range phones available if it only had marginally better hardware. With that said, the 635 is still a really good phone at a great price.

Note: The 1520 is my daily driver. And I used my 520 simply as a GPS to get up there, lol.

After breaking:
Lumia 900
Lumia 920
Lumia 1020

I've resorted to the Lumia 625. I can agree with everything brad says as shortcomings for low end devices. Now I'm waiting until a new Lumia flagship launches, and otterbox release a case for it.

I've spent the past week camping near Lake Michigan with the 635. Needless to say, I'm impressed. I took a ton of photos and videos. I even took a video of us riding our bikes down the trail which looked pretty good. Especially since I was just holding the phone out in front of me while steering and filming, lol. Fortunately, most of the photos I took were in good lighting conditions and look excellent. They're exactly what I expected for the price of the phone.

Weather was a bit hectic since it was right next to Lake Michigan. There was a severe thunderstorm the second night there. Luckily, I didn't get it wet. I got my phone covered in sand walking along the beach but the 635 shrugged it off. Battery life was fine. I did need a few midday charges, which wasn't surprising since I was using it so much.

As for performance, it's no different than what everyone says about low-end Windows Phones. Some slight lag (and I do mean slight) but nothing that was a distraction. Otherwise, performance was excellent. I also love the way the phone feels in the hand. It's a shame, I think the 635 could be one of the best mid-range phones available if it only had marginally better hardware. With that said, the 635 is still a really good phone at a great price.

Note: The 1520 is my daily driver. And I used my 520 simply as a GPS to get up there, lol.

I took my Lumia 635 back to the carrier just a few days ago and went back to my iPhone 4.

I just couldn't get into the OS, I dunno, maybe it was the resolution and PPI of the device that made it look like cheap and low-class. You'll definitely need to have a micro-SD card if you plan on installing apps and music, 8GB is extremely limited.

I couldn't even use main source of music, Spotify, because they require a paid sub to stream on the WP platform, whereas on every other supported system, a paid sub is not required. I doubt it's a Spotify thing, since I can't see why they'd limit it just a single OS. Also, the lack of PPTP prevented me from setting up any of the VPN's I've got.

Will I go back to WP? maybe with a different device, the 635 even feels like a cheap device. Devices shouldn't feel cheap, even if they are a low-end device. In Canada, the Lumia 635 goes for $200 off-contract, not exactly pocket change.

Cortana was nice to have, she called me 'master'.

timster said,
I took my Lumia 635 back to the carrier just a few days ago and went back to my iPhone 4.

I just couldn't get into the OS, I dunno, maybe it was the resolution and PPI of the device that made it look like cheap and low-class. You'll definitely need to have a micro-SD card if you plan on installing apps and music, 8GB is extremely limited.

I couldn't even use main source of music, Spotify, because they require a paid sub to stream on the WP platform, whereas on every other supported system, a paid sub is not required. I doubt it's a Spotify thing, since I can't see why they'd limit it just a single OS. Also, the lack of PPTP prevented me from setting up any of the VPN's I've got.

Will I go back to WP? maybe with a different device, the 635 even feels like a cheap device. Devices shouldn't feel cheap, even if they are a low-end device. In Canada, the Lumia 635 goes for $200 off-contract, not exactly pocket change.

Cortana was nice to have, she called me 'master'.

Its a spotify thing, They already said that they will be removing the paid requirement in the coming months. It does suck as a WP to keep paying and I wish they would have rolled out the update to all platforms at once

The 635 is borderline entry into WP. If you wanted something sturdier with more power, should have gone with a 9XX or 15XX series. My kid uses the 635 because it's cheap and does everything that he needs. For a power user I wouldn't recommend it at all.

There's also the 530 but don't know where you'd be able to get that in the US at this time, that costs even less. Personally I'm much more interested in a new mid-high or high-end phone later this year or early next to replace my 8X.

I used a 620 for about 2 months as my main phone. I eventually went to a 1gb RAM device because I was running into issues multi-tasking, but as long as you realize that multi-tasking isn't going to be amazing on a 512mb device, it's really an excellent phone.

If you want to check out Windows Phone 8.1, the 635 is a great device for that. I got mine as a preorder from Microsoft just on impulse (I had been using a Galaxy) and have used it as my main phone (until the 830 becomes available, anyway). The lack of a front-facing camera is really the only thing that I miss with the 635.

There seemed to be a lot concern about the amount of memory (512M) and performance, but it really doesn't seem to be an issue at all, at least with how I use my phone. Cortana is great (Microsoft needs to get her integrated with Windows 8.1 on the desktop, and on Xbox One, as soon as possible, but that's a whole other thing). The battery life is absolutely amazing compared to every other Android phone that I've used.

In short, get one. It's an amazing value, and WP8.1 just blows iOS and Android out of the water.

Just to play around with, sure, but if switching to WP8/+ is something that you're actually considering, then you may want to get one in the same performance class (budget/mid-line/flagship) as what you're currently using.

techbeck said,
Dont see why it wouldnt be if you have the money/want. I bought a 520 when it was on sale.

Yes, I got the 520 on sale too for less than 100.00 I proved that WP is not for me, its in drawer now.